Victoria Azarenka is the women’s world No 1 and on the evidence of her outstanding display in round one at the US Open on Monday night, could well be a serious contender for the title this year. I know that sounds odd – surely the No 1 is always a contender? – but with Serena Williams considered such a big favourite, anyone else is an outsider. On paper at least. Azarenka was in full flow and when you remember that she won the Australian Open on hard courts at the start of the year, there is no reason why she should not go well again here.
Usually there is a massive clamour to speak to such players – Roger Federer’s press conferences are always packed out because he continues to be interesting, intelligent and relevant even after so many years on Tour. But Azarenka remains virtually anonymous, even within the press rooms around the world. On Monday, after her first-round win, instead of just announcing a time for her press conference, officials went through the press room asking if “anyone was interested in speaking to Azarenka”. The silence was deafening. That’s the world No 1. In the end, one or two stragglers must have come forward (perhaps a couple of Brits desperate to fill the awkward silence) and the Belarussian ended up in Room 2, a far smaller interview room.
The events here are nothing unique to New York. At Wimbledon last year, she did not have to do a press conference until after her quarter-final win and this year it was only one round sooner. It’s hard to explain exactly the reasons for the lack of interest in Azarenka but she does not do herself many favours. There is no problem with having an attitude if you at least consider questions and try to answer them in a decent manner. She has a tendency to come across a little cold, not interested in anyone’s questions and rarely gives answers that make you think she is being honest. In her defence, she has been criticised for her grunting an awful lot in the press, so perhaps she has just decided to give the media nothing as a result. The upshot of that – no one wants to speak to her and so no one knows anything about her. I wonder what her sponsors think about it.
They say this is a golden era for the men’s game – with two all-time greats in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, one on-the-way-to all-time great in Novak Djokovic and who knows, a very, very good player in Andy Murray. But it is also the ageing generation with 33 players in the men’s event over the age of 30, an Open Era record. John Isner said on Monday he believes it’s down to the physical nature of the game that means players have to work harder off the court before they break through and that strength helps them in the long run, perhaps better than if they hit the Tour at the age of 16 and simply wear themselves down. Look out for some of the golden oldies over the next fortnight, including Tommy Haas, the German who’s had more comebacks than the Spice Girls.